Weekly Column: Closing the Strip Club Loophole
One of the most important responsibilities of Congress is to ensure that taxpayer funds are spent appropriately and effectively. The Ways & Means’ Subcommittee on Human Resources, which I chair, has jurisdiction over a number of major social welfare benefit programs and am always looking for ways to improve them.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is one of those programs. TANF provides support for low-income families and children that helps them to move from welfare to work. Since it replaced the New Deal-era welfare program in 1996, TANF has been recognized as one of the most effective reforms of our social welfare system, with a success of cutting welfare dependence by fifty-seven percent. TANF is an important hand up, not a handout.
Even more importantly, by promoting work among single parents who are the most common welfare recipients, it helped to significantly reduce child poverty in female-headed families over time. Even at today’s elevated unemployment rates, TANF continues to promote more work and earnings – and less poverty.
Despite this overall progress, there are still areas where TANF can and should be strengthened. Recently, concern has been raised about TANF benefits being withdrawn and used at strip clubs, liquor stores, and casinos. This is an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars and an outright abuse of taxpayer trust.
Many local news investigations and exposés around the country have verified this unfortunate abuse of a well-intended program.
In Seattle, Washington, King 5 News discovered through an investigation that 13,000 TANF recipients withdrew approximately $2 million at casinos just in 2010.
In California, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that $1.8 million in TANF funds were withdrawn in casinos, and $12,000 was accessed in strip clubs.
An investigation in Arizona found TANF cash benefits were accessed in liquor stores over 100 times in a three month period.
Some States, like Washington, New Mexico, and Texas, have begun to take action, but oversight and enforcement can be sporadic. ABC7 in Denver, Colorado found that TANF cash benefits were being withdrawn in strip clubs, casinos, and liquor stores even though Colorado has a law to prohibit such transactions.
To help ensure taxpayer confidence in this program, there should be a nationwide solution since the program is funded primarily with federal dollars. A member of the Human Resources Subcommittee, Rep. Charles Boustany [LA- 7], introduced H.R. 3567, the Welfare Integrity Now for Children and Families Act of 2011, to address this issue.
H.R. 3567 would close this so-called “strip club loophole.” Within two years of enactment, States would be required to block welfare benefit card transactions in casinos, liquor stores, and strip clubs. In plain language, welfare benefits could no longer be accessed at any of these facilities. The bill passed the House by a vote of 395-27.
This bipartisan, bicameral program integrity provision will safeguard taxpayer funds from abuse and ensure that TANF benefits continue to provide a helping hand to families in need. The Senate should pass H.R. 3567 without delay.
H.R. 3567 is designed to close the "strip club loophole." But notice that the Los Angeles Times unearthed $1.8 million withdrawn in casinos and a paltry $12,000 at strip clubs. This isn't targeted at the "casino loophole," though. The casino industry is big business and semi-respectable these days. Strip clubs, however, are still seedy, shameful places. So even though strip clubs represent a mere pittance of "misused" funds, they're the target of the bill.
It bores me to even have to note the hypocrisy of the "get government out of my life!" crowd continuing to prosecute its paternalistic, judgmental crusade against individual choices outside their approved list. And it goes without saying that I am pro-stripper, a position I've espoused previously in this blog.
What upsets me the most is that this is an insidious way of marrying the ongoing demonizing of benefits recipients with the culture war. I become angry every time I see someone arrogantly call for mandatory drug testing of unemployment beneficiaries, for instance. "I have to be tested to earn it for you, you should be tested to get it!" they shout. Because, apparently, those people live in a different world than the one in which only people who have actually paid into the unemployment system are allowed to receive money from it, meaning those recipients took the same drug test you're so proud of yourself for taking. Furthermore, who are you kidding? Every job I've ever worked had at least a few people who openly shared their recreational drug use, bragged about beating the tests and how they hated having to stay clean long enough to get the job in the first place. You just want people to jump through hoops because it gives you a chance to continue viewing them as second class citizens.
Christian fundamentalists continue to be obsessed with establishing their city on a hill for all the world to emulate, but for the last four hundred years they have failed to understand the most important element of that city: It must be built voluntarily or it has no meaning. That means allowing those who do not desire to live in their city to partake in casinos and strip clubs and, yes, doing so with money that our (gasp!) secular society has agreed is theirs to spend.
This isn't about wasteful government spending. This is about pitting "morals" against TANF recipients. This is about conflating the absurd religious crusade with the GOP-driven war on the poor. How much more prosperity would there be in America if we just didn't have to support all those damn poor people? And if we absolutely must, then they ought to at least have the decency to live their lives precisely as we want them to, right?
Be sanctimonious with your own families and those who choose to endure your arrogance.
Leave strip clubs alone.